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Audit: More than 63,000 veterans waiting for care

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An audit of hundreds of Veterans Affairs facilities released Monday found that more than 63,000 veterans were waiting to be scheduled for care nationwide, and the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it was scrapping performance bonuses for all senior management in 2014 as part of its response to the review.

 

The internal VA audit provides a more complete picture of widespread problems at the agency's health care facilities -- as reported by CNN over the past seven months -- than its preliminary findings last month that led to the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

 

According to the audit findings released Monday, a 14-day deadline for providing care to newly enrolled veterans such as those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan proved \"simply not attainable\" due to growing demand and a lack of capacity.

 

\"Imposing this expectation on the field before ascertaining the resources required and its ensuing broad promulgation represent an organizational leadership failure,\" the audit said of the deadline imposed under Shinseki.

 

It said 63,869 veterans enrolled in the VA health care system in the past 10 years have yet to be seen for an appointment.

 

\"This data shows the extent of the systemic problems we face, problems that demand immediate actions,\" said acting VA Secretary Sloane Gibson, who took over after Shinseki stepped aside.

 

Gibson's statement said the VA has contacted 50,000 veterans \"to get them off of wait lists and into clinics\" so far.

 

Other steps he announced included:


  • A new patient satisfaction measurement program.

  • A hiring freeze at VA central headquarters in Washington and the 21 VHA regional offices, \"except for critical positions to be approved by the secretary on a case-by-case basis.\"

  • Removing the 14-day scheduling goal.

  • Ordering an independent, outside audit of VHA scheduling practices across the system. This would differ from a review being conducted by the VA inspector general's office.

  • Applying reforms announced for the Phoenix VA facility to others considered the \"most challenged.\"

  • Deploying mobile medical units to provide services to veterans awaiting care.

  • Suspending all performance awards for VHA senior executives for fiscal year 2014, which runs through September.


CNN first reported the extensive problems at the Phoenix VA facility, including an interview with a whistleblower who confirmed 40 veterans died while waiting for care there.

 

The audit findings included information from 731 VA facilities nationwide and interviews with more than 3,700 staff members.

 

Reasons for the chronic problems include the increasing number of veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a bonus system that rewarded managers for meeting treatment goals.

 

According to CNN's previous reporting, managers in Phoenix and elsewhere used secret waiting lists to cover up the amount of time it took for veterans to get appointments.

 

Some in Congress on both sides of the aisle have called for a criminal investigation, with Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas saying Monday the new audit increases the need for such a step. 

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